Italian if clause – type 3
“If clauses” are those phrases that mention a condition, introduced by the word “if”. This clause is usually followed (or preceded) by a consequence.
Let’s have a look at one type of “if clause” for you to understand better:
- If you came here, we could do something together.
As you can see, there is a condition (the clause introduced by “if”) and a consequence (the other clause).
In today’s lesson, we’re going to focus on the Italian “if clause” – type 3.
In Italian, we call it “periodo ipotetico dell’impossibilità”.
We use this type of “if clause” when there is the impossibility of the condition coming true because we refer to an event that should have happened in the past.
In other words, this type of “if clause” expresses an impossible hypothesis, something in the past that can’t happen anymore, as well as its consequence.
That’s why it’s called “periodo ipotetico dell’impossibilità”.
Here’s an example of an “if clause” – type 3 in English:
- If you had listened to me, you would have done the right thing.
This is how we would say it in Italian:
- Se mi avessi ascoltato, avresti fatto la cosa giusta.
Italian if clause – type 3: structure
Let’s now focus on the structure of type 3 Italian “if clause”.
In the case of an impossible hypothesis, we use the congiuntivo trapassato (referred to as the past perfect subjunctive) in the clause expressing the condition (the one starting with “se”) and the past conditional in the clause expressing the consequence.
So, this is the structure:
- Se + congiuntivo trapassato + past conditional
If you don’t remember or if you just don’t know how to form the congiuntivo trapassato or/and past conditional, keep reading the next two sections.
If you don’t need to review this, you can skip to the section with examples.
Italian if clause – type 3: congiuntivo trapassato
We use the congiuntivo trapassato to formulate a hypothesis in the past. That’s why we need it in this type of construction when we want to talk about a consequence in the past.
The congiuntivo trapassato is a compound tense, which means it’s made up of two separate verbs: the auxiliary verb (essere or avere) and the main verb.
In order to form the congiuntivo trapassato, we need the following structure:
- avere or essere in the imperfect of the subjunctive + past participle
Here are the verbs and “avere” and “essere” in the imperfect of the subjunctive:
- Avere: io avessi, tu avessi, lui/lei avesse, noi avessimo, voi aveste, loro avessero.
- essere: io fossi, tu fossi, lui/lei fosse, noi fossimo, voi foste, loro fossero
Here’s a tip for you, in case you don’t remember this:
- Avere is followed by most verbs, like “comprare” (to buy), “mangiare” (to eat), “leggere” (to read), etc.
- Essere is followed by the verb “essere” and “stare“, and by all verbs that deal with movement and by reflexive verbs.
Past participles are those words that end in -ATO, -UTO, and -ITO, like mangiato, saputo, and dormito.
There are some past participles that are irregular, like chiesto (asked), detto (said), fatto (done), stato (been), venuto (come), visto (seen).
Here are some examples – note that, for practical reasons, they’re not complete sentences but isolated phrases:
Se avessi mangiato…
If I had eaten…
Se avessimo visto…
If we had seen…
Se fossi andata…
If I had gone…
Se foste venuti…
If you had come…
As you can see in the examples above, the past participle of the verbs that go with “essere” (i.e.: fossi, foste) agree in number and gender with the subject (i.e.: andata, venuti).
Italian if clause – type 3: past conditional
We use the past conditional to express an outcome in the past that didn’t happen. That’s why we use it together with the clause introducing the condition in the past.
Here’s the structure of the Italian past conditional:
- avere or essere in the present conditional + past participle
Here are the verbs avere and essere in the past conditional:
- Avere: io avrei, tu avresti, lui/lei avrebbe, noi avremmo, voi avreste, loro avrebbero.
- essere: io sarei, tu saresti, lui/lei sarebbe, noi saremmo, voi sareste, loro sarebbero
Here are some examples – again, they’re not complete sentences:
I would have eaten
she would have wanted
they would have gone
I would have come
Practice with QuizletHere's a set of flashcards and quizzes to practice this grammar topic.
Italian if clause – type 3: examples
Let’s have a look at some more examples with a condition in the past and an outcome that didn’t happen:
Se mi avessi detto la verità, ti avrei creduto.
If you had told me the truth, I would have believed you.
Se avessi saputo che venivi, avrei preparato qualcosa da mangiare.
If I had known you were coming, I would have prepared something to eat.
Se avessimo avuto un aereo privato, avremmo girato tutto il mondo.
If we had had a private plane, we would have gone all around the world.
Se fossi venuta al concerto con noi ieri sera, ti saresti divertita.
If you had come to the concert with us last night, you would have had fun.
Se fossimo andati in centro, li avremmo incontrati.
If we had gone downtown, we would have met them.
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